You've definitely heard that 'Prevention is Better than Cure', this quote is twice as true in the case of strokes, because stroke victims are never entirely cured. Whenever blood enters the brain, it kills or short circuits brain cells and damages neurological pathways that can never be regenerated. Because of this detrimental effect; stroke victims never fully recover what they have lost – some lose control of their limbs others lose the ability to converse naturally and some unfortunate victims are almost completely paralysed. Recovery from strokes takes years of physiotherapy and medication. So why not prevent yourself from getting into such a difficult situation in the first place? Here are a few simple steps in stroke prevention to help you adopt a healthy lifestyle and reduce your risk factor.
An appropriate amount of regular exercise ensures that your body stays fit and healthy. 30 minutes of simple activity, like aerobics, walking, jogging, swimming or bicycling; on a daily basis improves your circulation and keeps your heart and blood vessels in the best possible condition; thus reducing your risk of heart disease, lowering your blood pressure and increasing your good cholesterol levels. Regular exercise also helps to reduce stress, lose weight and keep diabetes in check.
Cigarette smoking has been linked to blockages of the major arteries (especially fatty substances in the carotid artery which supplies blood to the brain) and various types of cancer. Smoke and second-hand smoke has been identified as one of the leading causes of stroke. Smokers can reduce their risk of having a stroke by quitting. In fact within just a few years of quitting, smokers are seen to have nearly the same risk levels as non-smokers.
One of the simplest ways to prevent strokes is to monitor your diet. Studies have proved that even small changes in diet can make a huge difference in terms of stroke risk. Maintaining a low sodium diet and eating less cholesterol and fat (especially saturated fat and trans fats) will lower the likelihood of your arteries getting clogged ie. you will reduce your risk of developing arteriosclerosis. Incorporate several servings of fruits and vegetables as a major part of your diet – they reduce your stroke risk by increasing your potassium intake.
Alcohol can either reduce or increase your risk, depending on the quantity of intake. Excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking can increase your blood pressure by hardening your arteries. However, drinking in moderation increases your high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol) levels and decreases your blood's natural clotting tendency. Thus, drinking in moderation, may reduce your risk slightly but alcohol consumption must always be monitored.
Patients with high blood pressure (or hypertension) are at the highest risk of suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. If you have high blood pressure, please consult a doctor to bring it down to the normal range as soon as possible. Stress management, regular exercise and a low-sodium & low-fat diet are recommended.
Diabetes causes destructive changes in blood vessels throughout the body and worst of all within the brain. Stroke victims who suffer from uncontrolled diabetes and have high glucose levels at the time of the stroke suffer more extensive brain damage. Treating diabetes is known to delay the onset of stroke related complications. Diabetes can be managed by monitoring blood sugar levels and reducing them with diet, exercise, weight control and medication.
Heart Disease is often, but not always, a major factor that contributes to an ischemic stroke. Arteriosclerosis and coronary artery disease, valve defects, irregular heart beat, and enlargement of one of the heart's chambers may result in clots that could break loose and block a blood vessel in or leading to the brain. If you have a history of heart disease, high cholesterol levels or clogged arteries, consult a cardiologist to reduce your risk of heart disease as soon as possible.
Patients should never continue to take medication after the prescribed period is over, especially blood thinners (like heparin or warfarin), diuretics and certain drugs that are known to raise blood pressure; these dugs, if take over an extended period of time may increase stroke risk. Street drugs, like cocaine and methamphetamines, should also be strictly avoided.
Over all maintaining a healthy and stress-free lifestyle are most effective in keeping your risk of suffering from an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke. However, if you or someone close to you is suffering from a stroke, immediate treatment, is the best way to prevent excessive brain damage. Click here to see a list of stroke warning signs and symptoms.
Note: The information provided here is for informational purposes only; this advice is not to be used as expert medical opinion. Please visit Holy Family Hospital regularly to check your risk levels and consult our neurologists for a medical advice.